Trinity A.M.E. Zion Church, Binghamton

telethons

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O Come, All Ye Faithful. December 1959

For my request to  Ask Roger Anything, Carla, my friend from the high school choir asks:

Write more about your early memories of your church and school and your family!! I love those stories.

My, that’s tough. There are SO many tales. OK. I was baptized at my church, Trinity A.M.E. Zion Church in downtown Binghamton, NY in August 1953. No, I don’t remember this.

But my church moved when I was a kid to the corner of Oak and Lydia Streets. I took a search on Newspapers.com. “Bishop Walls…senior bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, will rededicate the former Plymouth Methodist Church as the new church edifice of Trinity.” This was in a story in the 8 June 1957 edition of the Binghamton Press. I vaguely remember him. 

It’s fascinating the detail given not just in this story, but all of the religious goings-on in the area. “The present Trinity Church at 35 Sherman Place recently was purchased by St. Mary’s Assumption Church as part of a site as a planned recreational center.”

Ultimately, Columbus Park was built on that site, right across the street from the Interracial Center at 45 Carroll St, where my father Les would often volunteer. Not incidentally, the park has been informally renamed for Assata Shakur.

One-tenth of a mile

The new church location was two really short blocks from our house at 5 Gaines Street. And we’d cut through the parking lot at Gaines and Oak, making the trip even faster. So we really were at church all of the time. I participated in the children’s choir, directed by Fred Goodall, who seemed to be there forever.

WNBF-TV, Channel 12 (now WBNG) used to have telethons. It was either the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon on Labor Day weekend or the March of Dimes or maybe both. In any case, our choir appeared on the station more than once. In fact, between those appearances and being on the kids’ shows, I was on local TV at least a half dozen times.

My paternal grandmother Agatha – emphasis on the second syllable, not the first – was my Sunday school teacher. She and her husband McKinley also lived upstairs from us at 5 Gaines Street. So I saw her a lot, often playing canasta at her kitchen table, until she died in May 1964. She was the first person I knew and loved who passed away.

My father Les would run off the bulletin on that mimeograph machine. I can still recollect in my mind’s nostrils that specific smell. Besides singing in the senior choir, dad also began directing the youth choir he dubbed the MAZET singers, based on the initials of the church, It included the organist’s younger daughter Lauren, my cousin Debra, my sister Leslie, and me. I recollect that we were pretty good.

OK, Carla, maybe I’ll try this again sometime.

Pinochle with my mom and dad

a hundred aces

PinochlePinochle is “a card game for two or more players using a 48-card deck consisting of two of each card from nine to ace, the object being to score points for various combinations and to win tricks.” Within the game, it was also specifically “the combination of the queen of spades and jack of diamonds.” It’s pronounced PEA-knuckle.

I’ve participated in lots of card games in IRL: canasta, bid whist, hearts, spades, casino, gin rummy, 500 rummy. Yet the only game I have on my phone is pinochle. I’ll play it just before going to bed, or maybe as a diversion from the frustration of the day.

As I figured out, it’s because it is a thing that I played with just my mom and dad. This went on from when I was about 10 until I departed I went to college. And the double-deck version, which is my preferred iteration to play, is a game I’ve only ever played with my parents. It didn’t involve my sisters, just the three of us.

Cut-throat double-deck pinochle involved holding 26 cards in your hand. The nines are removed from the deck, and the person winning the first trick got the two-card kitty.

Jack of diamonds, queen of spades

So I think it is the case that pinochle is a reflection of my parents. One can have a lot of points (meld) to bid. For instance, a pinochle is worth four points, but a double pinochle is worth 30. A triple pinochle is 60, and a quadruples is 90. A double set of jacks are worth 40, a double set of queens 60, and a double set of kings 80.

But then you have to take enough points via tricks to actually save the meld, or you forfeit it. A hand with multiple pinochle or two sets of face cards don’t have a lot of power. For that, you want several aces and/or length in a trump suit, preferably both. My dad was the flashy high-meld hand, while mom was the one who always tried to make sure that high-bid hands weren’t for naught.

This is, I recognize, an imperfect analogy. One can have hands with lots of points and power (double sets of aces are 100 points, double runs of JQK10A are 150). But my parents seldom had an easy time of it. So when I fritter away my time on pinochle, I’ll think of mom and dad, who had gotten married 71 years ago today.

The pre-adoption birth certificate

ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED

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Less than a year later…
The state of New York lied to me. When I ordered my father’s pre-adoption birth certificate in March 2020, they told me it would take 15 months. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit. I figured that the deadline would be shot to heck and that September 2021 was a more likely delivery date.

I was right about September, but wrong about the year. On September 4, 2020, I received what I’d been seeking from the state Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics.

On the birth record was a stamp: This is not the current birth certificate on file.” It indicated that Leslie Harold Walker was “Known as Leslie Harold Green.” Father was listed as O.W. (out of wedlock), as I suspected. Mother was Agatha Walker, colored, born in Pennsylvania, who worked as a domestic. Les Green, of course, was my father.

More intriguing was the process by which McKinley Melvin Green adopted Leslie in September 1944, only a couple of weeks shy of Les’ 18th birthday. The report was quite a bit of legalese, with a dearth of periods. “Said parties having severally and personally appeared before me.” And “an investigation into the allegations of the petitioned proposed adoption being made by… the Department of Child Placing, Broome County Welfare.”

A good idea

Still no full stop. “It duly appearing that the moral and temporal interests of the said child, Leslie H. Walker, will be promoted by said adoption… The said McKinley M. Green is in all respects fit and proper person to adopt said child… The said McKinley M. Green has duly agreed to adopt said child and to make him his own lawful child…”

It goes on. “It further appearing that the said child, Leslie H. Walker, and the mother of said child, Agatha H. Walker, have duly consented in writing to such adoption.” Wait, there’s more. “And to a proposed change of the name of said child to Leslie H. Green….” It gets all “ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED.”

This is fascinating to me. McKinley and Agatha were married in 1931. But by 1936, they were no longer living together. In the 1940 Census, when Mckinley was residing in a boarding house, Agatha and Les were staying at Agatha’s parents’ house. But they were both listed as Green, or actually misspelled as Greene. In a 1942 photo in a Binghamton newspaper, Leslie Green was one of the Boy Scouts and McKinley one of the fathers.

After I was was about a year old, McKinley and Agatha lived on the second floor of 5 Gaines Street, while Les and his wife Trudy and I lived downstairs, along with my future sisters.

Also interesting to me is the fact that the change form for the adoption indicates Leslie H. Walker as an “infant” on September 13, 1944. He was 17 years and 50 weeks old at the time. What would the procedure have been if it had gone through two weeks later?

“Partly truth and partly fiction”

complicated

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Les and Roger Green, 1953
The more I learn about my late father Les Green, the more I want to know. “He’s a walking contradiction. Partly truth and partly fiction” is a line from a Kris Kristofferson song. His life was very complicated.

Did he know that the Reverend Raymond Cone was his biological father? Surely, the pastor was not in dad’s life. What kind of teasing did he have to endure?

Or was his lineage hidden from most people? In the 1930 Census, when he was three and a half, he was listed as the son, rather than the grandson, of Samuel and Eugenia Walker. And he was mistakenly listed as Wesley Walker, an error that wasted some research time and money by my sisters and me.

Agatha Walker and McKinley Green were married in April 1931. How and when did they meet? And why were they separated for the latter half of the 1930s? According to the 1940 Census, Agatha Greene and Leslie Greene – the surnames were misspelled – were back with Samuel and Mary.

There is a picture of a group of Boy Scouts and their dads in a 1942 Binghamton newspaper. Les and McKinley are included in the group. But it wasn’t until 1944 when Les was 18, he got a new birth certificate, with McKinley listed as the father. It notes McKinley’s age in 1944, rather than in Les’ birth year of 1926. But Agatha’s age is properly 24, her age when Les was born.

Race matters

I’ve mentioned my father’s ambivalence about serving in post-war Germany. It was due to the racism, not of the German people but of the white GIs. He also experienced colorism from his future in-laws, the Yates, since he was much darker than they were.

If he was a bit of a standoffish father early on, could it have been a result of the miscarriage my mother experienced in April 1951? It would have been a boy. Maybe it’s why he made sure that I was named for no one else. Yet he named his first daughter after himself.

He may have been the most gregarious person I’ve known in a public setting. Yet, sometimes at home, he was dubbed by my sisters and me, as the “black cloud” who seemed to suck the oxygen out of the room. This was true mostly when we were growing up, but we experienced it as late as 1997.

Some people are who they are almost all of the time. I think our mom was like that. Then there was our dad, who was…complicated. We wish we could ask him questions about all of these things. But the items about his youth, for instance, we really didn’t understand until he passed.

Les Green would have been 94 tomorrow.

To My White Friends Who Know Me

The Anti-Racism Task Force

Deborah L. Plummer posted To My White Friends Who Know Me on Medium. I related to it a lot, although I intentionally forged a different path.

She is self-described as a “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging professional.” I tried to consciously avoided roles such as being an affirmative action officer. It’s not because I thought it was unimportant. My father served that function, among others, as a vice-president of J.A. Jones Construction in Charlotte, NC. And he was involved in civil rights starting back in his days in Binghamton, NY. Still, I found that some people, mostly white, but a few black folks as well, thought that such positions reeked of tokenism.

This is why we are having a moment in America. As Plummer noted: “I have a lot of White friends. Obviously, they have always known that I am Black. The amount of melanin in my skin hasn’t changed… They have claimed me as their Black friend.

“Yet, during this time of aggressive push for racial equity, most of my White friends are now just seeing and experiencing me as a Black person. Having witnessed a startling, violent 8 minutes and 46 seconds of video, they now see me and other Blacks as the recipients of systemic racism. They understand that the murder of George Floyd represents the weight of how Blacks in the United States have been treated for decades, and they struggle not to see themselves as participants in anything vicariously related to what Derek Chauvin did.

They try to be supportive

“My White friends are now on an emotional roller coaster as they read Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste. They are making personal racial equity to-do lists and signing up for accountability partners after reading Ibram X. Kendi’s How To Be An Antiracist…” I feel the need to keep up myself!

“They know, acknowledge, and make no excuses for the fact that Trump is racist and are genuinely horrified by his long history of racism.” (Finally!) “They know that race is strongly correlated with voting preferences and that the vast majority of Trump supporters are White. They are afraid of the disparate impact on me and other BIPOC if Trump is reelected and are actively working to prevent that from happening.”

This is especially true. “My White friends are apologizing to me for things they said, might have said, or could have possibly said that did, could have, or might have smacked of racism. They are doing mental rewinds of situations where they showed me support.” Yes, some of that. “And writing mini memoirs sent to me in emails as proof that they really are and have been antiracist pre-George Floyd. Some of their stories I vividly remember, and some stories I do not recall at all.” Yup.

Time has come today

Perhaps I didn’t talk enough about race to my white friends prior to the end of May 2020. I hadn’t avoided the issue. Maybe Probably I thought they just wouldn’t understand. Perhaps I underestimated them. Or, quite likely, circumstances have allowed a conversation where I didn’t see an opening previously.

Even things I wrote about before, like Tulsa in 1921, which I wrote about in 2016, seem to have a new resonance. Before it was, “Oh, that a terrible thing,” but a singular event. Now it’s seen as part of a systemic flaw in the country. There is a line that runs from slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration, which I discussed in 2014, BTW.

At church, I have been involved in Black History Month events for over a decade. (Some people say I’m in charge of it, but I vigorously deny it.) The Anti-Racism Task Force, of which I am NOT a member, has been running adult education at church, via Zoom, all summer, and will continue to do so once a month going forth.

This reminds me of a story, but that’ll have to be for another time.